EXCERPT: 'Pinstripe Empire' by Marty Appel

"Pinstripe Empire" by Marty Appel (Bloomsbury, May 2012)

"Pinstripe Empire" by Marty Appel (Bloomsbury, May 2012)

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Opening day, April 18, 1923, drew 74,200 announced fans (though Barrow told friends it was more like sixty thousand), the previous major league record having been 42,620 for a game in the 1916 World Series in Boston. Many thousands more were said to be turned away. Some made it to the Bronx by automobile, and many experimented with their first trip to the Bronx via subway. (It was a subway, despite the station being elevated; the train emerged from underground only a few hundred feet from the platform on northbound trains.)

The Yankees felt a little shortchanged by the location of the station, out by the left-field bleachers. People departing the trains would thus encounter the cheapest seats, among them $1.10 for the grandstand. Like all ballparks, the stadium had to be laid out so that the sun didn't set in the batter's eye and so that the pitcher's left arm (his "southpaw") faced south. Moving the subway exits would have been good business but an impossible feat.

At one point during a private VIP reception before the first game, Huston asked for a moment's silence and saluted the team's late business manager. "Harry Sparrow should have lived to have seen this day," he said. "Then he could have died happy."

Babe Ruth was the center of attention and posed for many photos with his mascot, Little Ray. Tom Connolly, who had umpired the first Hilltop Park game in 1903, was the home-plate umpire for this one as well. The players, in their long gray button-down sweaters with the interlocking NY on the heart, marched to the flagpole for the raising of the American flag and the 1922 American League pennant, with Huggins, in his long-sleeved jersey, and the new Red Sox manager, none other than Frank Chance, doing the honors with Commissioner Landis, who had come uptown by subway. Ban Johnson, who had dreamed of this day for years, was said to have the flu, and Mayor Hyland was under the weather as well. The great John Philip Sousa guest-conducted the Seventh Regiment Band (Ruppert's unit) and played the requisite patriotic songs of the time, many by Sousa himself. Red-white- and-blue bunting was displayed over the railings along f eld level, a practice that would remain in style for future opening days and World Series games.

John Drebinger, who in his younger days had crossed the country in a covered wagon, would be there taking it in, just a few weeks before officially joining The New York Times. John lived until October of 1979 and for a time, after his Times retirement in 1964, was part of our public-relations department. He didn't have many duties, but one was keeping an immaculate box score on Old-Timers' Day, which the New York papers would run. He wore a hearing aid and would conveniently turn it off if he wasn't interested in the surrounding conversation. And, oh, he loved baseball and loved to regale people with stories of his unbroken string of covering every World Series game from 1929 to 1963. Always in his storytelling was the magnificence of that opening day in 1923, when baseball seemed to jump from a game to a business. "Imagine, seventy-four thousand people coming to see one event," he'd say to me. "A lot of American cities aren't that big!"

Harry M. Stevens produced a commemorative opening-day scorecard, triple the normal price at fifteen cents, which included the message, "The temporary subway station at 161st St and River Ave will be replaced by an appropriate permanent station during this year. All the streets around the Stadium will be paved with asphalt early this season. The very few touches needed to complete the Stadium will be added at once."

Back by home plate, Huggins received a floral lucky horse shoe, the custom of the day, and Ruppert plucked a rose and put it in his lapel. Governor Al Smith threw out the first ball to Wally Schang.

"I'd give a year of my life to hit the first home run here," Ruth said.

The gates opened at noon. The game began at 3:30. Bob Shawkey, in his red flannel sweatshirt -- and who with Pipp was the senior member of the team -- delivered the first pitch to old teammate Chick Fewster of Boston, who grounded to Everett Scott at short. Whitey Witt would be the first Yankee hitter, with Howard Ehmke on the mound for the Red Sox.

The game was scoreless going to the bottom of the third, when Ruth racked a three-run homer -- a line drive twenty rows up in the right-field bleachers, a distance of about four hundred feet -- driving in Witt and Joe Dugan ahead of him. The ovation was deafening. It was exactly what the crowd wanted to see.

The Yankees won 4-1 in just over two hours. Their lineup included Pipp at first, Ward at second, Scott at short, Dugan at third, Schang catching, and Meusel, Witt, and Ruth left to right in the outfield. It was a day for firsts, and a day when baseball moved into its next era of what would be "big-time baseball."

Fred Lieb is believed to have christened the new stadium the House That Ruth Built, although the men in the two rows forming the mezzanine press box behind home plate could all have been verbalizing similar thoughts. Lieb called it a "moment of inspiration." The fact was, it may have been true financially -- Ruth's presence making such a park possible -- but if he'd really built it, it might have looked a bit different. The attractive distance down the right-field foul line notwithstanding, the fences seemed to sprint away from home plate, and the placement of very short foul poles may have cost Babe a lot of homers simply due to poor umpire calls over the years. Given Ruth's propensity for home runs, on this matter the architects just didn't get it right.

In early 1927, Ruth told Frank Graham, "All the parks are good except the Stadium. There is no background there at all. But the best of them all is the Polo Grounds. Boy, how I used to sock 'em in there. I cried when they took me out of the Polo Grounds!"

Ruth scholar Bill Jenkinson believes there were many Ruth shots down the foul line that entered the bleachers fair but landed in foul territory, and without the aid of a high foul pole were often mistaken by the umpires. At least at the Polo Grounds, the tops of the foul poles were "extended" by having a rope drawn from them to the second deck. Jenkinson thinks as many as 80 would have met this fate; obviously some were indeed foul, but clearly a great many were lost to this oddity. Nevertheless Ruth loved the Yankees, and the Yankees loved Ruth.

Yankee Stadium was open for business.

 

From "Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees From Before the Babe to After the Boss" by Marty Appel. Copyright © 2012 by Marty Appel. Reprinted by permission of Bloomsbury Publishing, Inc.

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